The city’s paid sick time ordinance may get a new name and policies under revisions proposed by a city commission.
The name change is only one of a slew of recommended changes that hope to survive a legal challenge currently pending in court. The city’s paid sick leave commission spent the last five months drafting the changes. Now it’s up to city council members to determine how to move forward.
The name change would go from Paid Sick Time to Sick and Safe Leave Benefits. It emphasizes safety, and Assistant City Manager Dr. Colleen Bridger says the name would signify that workers could take time off to address a domestic violence crisis, for instance.
“I think if we draw attention to that through the title then employees are going to be more likely to understand that this isn’t just when they have a fever,” she said. “This ordinance allows them to take paid time off when they have other safety concerns as well.”
The full San Antonio City Council would have final approval of any changes, including the name change.
The ordinance has endured a complicated journey to becoming a city mandate. The Texas Organizing Project and other organizations like Working Texans for Paid Sick Time began gathering signatures in spring of 2018 to bring it to the city council. They succeeded by gathering more than 144,000 signatures. The council would approve it in August that year.
San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg created a city council committee to address concerns in the ordinance in November, and a commission of business owners and worker’s rights advocates was formed to explore and draft the changes. Danielle Hargrove – a mediator and arbitrator – chairs the commision, and she has worked since April to create and present those proposed revisions to the city council.
Hargrove presented the changes to council members on Tuesday but no decision or recommendation was made.
“It’s apparent that they need to go through it a little bit more before they have a comfort level, and that’s perfectly understandable,” Hargrove said.
District 8 Councilman Manny Pelaez, who chairs the city council’s paid sick leave committee, said the wait is needed to allow a deeper digging and understanding into the revisions.
“It seems like all [the committee members] have additional questions, and they want to do a little more research on their own,” Pelaez said.
One of the biggest changes to the ordinance is a one size fits all approach. Under the new proposal San Antonio businesses would need to offer an accrued minimum of 56 hours of leave a year to employees regardless of business size.
The ordinance currently requires large businesses to offer 64 hours per year and small businesses 48 hours of leave. Businesses with five employees or less will have a delayed implementation but the revisions now strike that.
Joleen Garcia, an organizer with the Texas Organizing Project who also sits on the commission, said the blanket accrual charges would serve the public best.
“In the interest in public health, we believe everybody should be held to the same standard and that is what works best across different research that we’ve looked at,” Garcia said.
The ordinance had a start date of Aug. 1. However, business groups sued over the ordinance, claiming it violated the Texas Minimum Wage Act. Commissioners removed the word "time" and replaced it with "benefits" to remove the wage aspect of the ordinance.
City attorneys agreed with plaintiffs to delay the ordinance until Dec. 1 to allow for revisions. The case is due back in court in November.
Two similar ordinances in Austin and Dallas are also tied up in the court system. Austin’s ordinance awaits a decision by the Texas Supreme Court. The Dallas lawsuit was filed in federal court.
The full City Council's vote on the revisions to the ordinance is expected in early October.
The city has two information sessions on its ordinance later this month: Sept. 23 at the TriPoint Events Center and Sept. 25 at Progreso Hall at the Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center. Both are at 6:00 p.m.
Joey Palacios can be reached at Joey@TPR.org and on Twitter at @Joeycules.